We will be offering a scythe course at Myross Wood House, Leap, Co. Cork, P81 Y192 on Saturday, 10th June 2023. I’ll be assisting Christopher Hayes, an experienced scythe instructor. For bookings please contact CECAS: email@example.com
The Height of Summer
After a rainy, grey morning, the sun has come out, bringing heat and letting all the summer colours shine brightly. Right now, garden work is not as urgent as in spring or autumn. Ongoing weeding is always a winner, of course, and excess growth can be cut back. But it can also wait for a bit. I’ve done an early round of seed collecting. The kitchen table is covered in bowls in which seeds dry out entirely before getting stored away for autumn sowing or for next year.
This time of year often seems like a standstill to me. It is summer, days are still long, nature is abundant. Usually a time to go on holidays or, more likely this year, to stay home and rest for a while. I’m in quarantine after short essential travels. I would have liked to go abroad to learn and practice more scything, but that will have to wait till next year. Instead, I walk in the garden and admire. I enjoy the deep blue colour of Agapanthus flowers, the stunning magenta of Gladioli, the lighter red/pink of Hollyhock. The many shades of green never cease to amaze me. I visit the Ligustrum often to sniff its rich summer scent. I let the garden look after me.
In truth, the standstill isn’t a standstill, of course. Days are not quite as long as they were a month ago, and the difference is visible. The odd yellow leaf is showing up on trees and shrubs that are still covered in lush green leaves. The sky is changing somewhat. Things are moving forward.
The longest day of the year, also called the summer solstice, has passed. We’ll have early sunrises, long days and late sunsets for a while yet, but days have begun to shorten. Us humans don’t notice that unless we make a conscious effort. Plants, however, notice and are putting in an extra effort of growth while the going is good. Many trees and shrubs push out extra shoots and fresh leaves in order to replace anything that got damaged by late frosts, drought or strong winds. These new shoots will have time to mature before late autumn.
Fruit have set and are now ripening. Some of them, like strawberries and summer fruiting raspberries, are ready to eat now. Currants and gooseberries need a bit more time. Apples, pears, plums and peaches will take another good while to ripen.
The young Braeburn apple tree is hanging on to its one apple and has produced a very late bunch of flowers which are now turning into tiny fruit. The tree is also branching out nicely, and the shoots are gaining in length and strength.
Vegetable production is happening, and the exotic trees sown earlier in the year continue to grow slowly but surely. So far, they’re not too keen on Irish weather. While we’re enjoying a good summer, the tree seedlings would clearly prefer higher temperatures. At the same time, cuttings taken from shrubs like Lilac and Hebe are thriving on cooler conditions. There’s just no accounting for taste.
A wildflower meadow sown last autumn is doing very well, same as a new border created over the winter which we filled with saved seeds, divided perennials and home-grown cuttings. It’s a great pleasure to see the colours and hear the buzzing of bees, bumblebees and other insects.
From 0 to 100 Over Night
While I hadn’t been doing nothing during lockdown, I had been doing things at my own pace, often interrupted by lockdown fatigue. Since May 18th I’m back at work, and the pace has speeded up dramatically. It’s May, so everything has to be done at the same time, and most clients’ gardens want my attention. There’s some catching up to do. Advertising and business skills want to be taken care of. On top of that, the annual voluntary strimming of local graveyards is taking up some evening hours.
Gardens have thrived in the long weeks of lockdown. Clients have upped their gardening skills and spent a lot of time looking after their gardens. It’s a pleasure to see the progress.
The Braeburn apple tree is growing steadily and has one small apple. Let’s hope it won’t fall off!
Letting it Happen
A month later, the country is still in lockdown and we’re awaiting the next government announcement regarding a lifting of restrictions.
I’m watching nature change on my daily 2km walks. Ornamental Cherry Trees have started opening and are now in full bloom. The pink ones are beginning to go over. The Horse Chestnuts further down the road are flowering beautifully.
On an rare trip to town I was amazed at the difference in nature’s progress there and here. Much more advanced in town (where it’s warmer), lagging behind here near the coast (where it’s cooler and the wind is stronger).
There’s progress in the ‘exotic trees’ experiment. The seeds floated in water have germinated very nicely. They are now getting adjusted to seed compost and are slowly starting to grow their second set of leaves. The seeds I stored in the fridge have now finished their period of cold stratification and have been sown into seed compost. Those seeds sown directly into a cold frame outdoors are slowly starting to germinate.
I’m also growing some vegetables this year. Usually, this is the busiest time of year, but during lockdown there’s time for veg growing at home. Endive, courgettes and radishes have come up in the course of 20 days. Tomato plants are sitting in a makeshift polytunnel, hoping for warmer temperatures.
And, good news: The young apple tree is flowering!
Country in Lockdown
Ireland, like most countries, has to deal with a new situation as COVID-19 is forcing us into isolation. This doesn’t stop nature, however. The country is turning green as leaves and flowers are unfolding. The young Braeburn apple tree is keeping pace with its older siblings this year!
Aphrodite’s Gardens is closed in accordance with government instructions, but is, of course, keeping busy at home. Recent activities:
As the grass keeps growing, it will have to be cut at some stage. Peening the scythe blades is a good way to get ready. Using a peening jig and a hammer, the metal of the blade is thinned down to a very fine and sharp edge.
Growing exotic plants is always a challenge for the keen gardener. In an attempt to find out which method of seed treatment works best, I stored some seeds in the fridge for cold stratification, let some seeds float in water for early germination, and sowed some directly into seed compost in a DIY cold frame. I’m now waiting patiently for results.
A client came up with a great idea! He cut up last year’s Xmas tree and used the branches as mulch around his acid-loving Blueberry bushes. The needles of the old tree will add to the acidity of the soil and thereby feed the live bushes. At the same time, the dry branches will suppress weeds. And it looks very tidy, too.
All the best to everyone, stay safe!
Stormy and Quiet Times
There seems to be a storm every weekend at the moment. Plants seem to take the weather in their stride and do their quiet early spring work. If you look closely, you’ll see fresh green emerging, buds swelling or even opening, bulbs pushing out their leaves. Daffodils, Ornamental Cherries, Magnolias, Wild Plums etc are flowering.
Garden work has picked up. It’s unspectacular at the moment, but it’s ongoing and getting everything ready for warmer weather and faster growth. Pruning, weeding, digging, planting, planning.
No news from the young apple tree. It’s biding its time at the moment.
Do go out when the weather lets you. Enjoy the warm rays of sunshine, relish the shades of green, treat your nose to the faint-but-sweet scent of early flowers.
Murky Mist and Splendid Sunshine
January is an odd mix of rest and activity. The new year has started and hibernation is clearly over, but things aren’t in full swing yet. The weather might turn really cold yet. Snow and frost might yet come. There’s still a holding-back before the year gains momentum. And yet, work is getting done, mountains are being moved.
It’s fruit pruning time now, and a good time for other winter pruning. We prune many trees and shrubs in winter, because plants are resting. After pruning, when the new growth begins, they can fill out their new shape without wasting energy on branches that have been removed. Pruning is also easier when branches are bare. Once the leaves have appeared, it’s more difficult to see the structure of a tree or shrub. Also, it’s better to prune before birds start nesting. Who wants to build a nest and then be disturbed by the gardener?
Pruning keeps trees and shrubs in good health, balances out irregular growth and enhances flowers and fruit.
Now is also a good time for cleaning up the garden – digging, removing weeds and briars, tidying overgrown areas – and plan and plant anew. The photos show a somewhat untidy bank, overgrown by briars and last year’s flowers. After the clean-up, most plant debris have been removed. Red and yellow stemmed Cornus (dogwood) have been planted, together with cuttings of red, orange, green and brown stemmed willow. Last year’s flowers will have self-seeded. Over time, the bank will offer lots of food for bees and other wildlife from early in the year onwards. In summer, there will be a good cover of leaves and flowers. In winter, the different coloured stems will make a great display.
Ongoing projects are coming on nicely. An area planted with Erica (heather) in summer 2018 is now in full bloom and starting to spread and cover the ground. A wildflower bed sown in September 2019 has turned green with brave seedlings that will not be deterred, whatever the weather.
The young Braeburn apple tree has been pruned back and is now, once again, smaller than the gardener – but not for long! 160cm tall today. Let’s see how long that lasts.
The year will be over in a few hours. It was a year of thriving, hard work, new and old skills, finding solutions, making things happen. The weather has been very kind. Now a time of rest is much needed.
The young Braeburn tree is now taller than the gardener and has reached a height of just over 2m.
The various willows have done very well and are ready for harvesting. They will be used as cuttings (to be planted in other gardens) and for basket making and staking.
As usual, some plants won’t be daunted by cold or by short hours of daylight. Vinca, Fatsia, Arbutus, Eleagnus and the odd willow are flowering, and even rose flowers can be seen here and there.
While it’s a good time to take a break, winter is also a good time for pruning and planting trees and shrubs, and for planning, of course. Don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Early Autumn Activity
While the young Braeburn apple tree continues to stretch towards the sky, Aphrodite’s Gardens put the newly learned skills into action and sowed wildflower meadows in two gardens. Two weeks later the first seedlings were already showing!
Bulb planting has also started. www.futureforests.ie and www.fruithillfarm.com have a good choice of (organic) bulbs on offer and deliver fast and hassle-free.
Seed saving is in full swing. The seeds of summer flowers are safely dried and stored for next year, while tree seeds are only starting to ripen.
To find out how to make your garden more pollinator-friendly, take a look at the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan at https://pollinators.ie/ . Lots of information to be found here!